Rafael Trujillo was a dick. Ruling as dictator of The Dominic Republic for over 30 years. Following a rebellion Trujillo was voted into power with 99% of the vote in 1930 with essentially no opposition (after his opponents were subject to military threats). Once the Commander in Chief of the army Trujillo now wielded ultimate power. Of course, he did have his supporters and under his control The Dominican Relublic soon became a founding member of The United Nations, enjoyed a great deal of economic stability and even saw its first national park-but the cost of this was incredibly high, human rights violations were a daily occurrence, torture and assassinations routine and order was maintened through fear and brute force- it is thought that Trujillo was responsible for at least 50,000 deaths (his mum must have been proud) his bloody reign seemed unstoppable.
Enter the Mirabel sisters. Patria, Dede, Minerva and Maria Teresa Mirabel all came of age under Trujillo’s rule. The sisters came from a well connected middle class family, were feisty, well educated and with the exception of Dede, all the sisters made the unusual (for the time) step of attending higher education institutions.
Whilst attending law school Minerva started to learn about the families of her new friends who had been killed (or simply vanished) under the dictator, this paired with a blossoming knowledge of her uncles involvement in the resistance started to spark something in Minerva.
Shortly after this Minerva came face to face with Trujillo. In 1949 the family were asked to attend a party he was hosting (I say asked, I mean forced-Trujillo liked to ensure his parties had a high percentage of pretty young women). During the party Trujillo’s men separated Minerva from the family, seating her at his table. Accounts from here seem to vary and are a little fuzzy, but what we do know is that Trujillo made a move on Minerva and she rejected him. The family then swiftly left the party, this was was a risky move.
Unsurprisingly Trujillo was not often told no and did not respond well to Minerva rebuffing his sexual advances or to the family leaving the party before he did (a big no no as it suggested disrespect towards the dictator) and so he ordered the entire Mirabel families imprisonment.
The family were eventually released, from prison. However Trujillo blocked Minerva from continuing her legal education and maintained a constant ebb of harassment towards her (again-his mum must be proud)
The families every move was now being monitored, with Minerva in particular reported to Trujillo’s forces several times for crimes including not toasting Trujillo at dinner. Soon Minerva started to become more active in resisting Trujillo, her youngest sister, Maria Teresa quickly jumped on board, outraged at the intimidation and human rights abuse that had not just seeped into the Mirabel household but the entire country.
Then on 14 June 1959 Patria witnessed the Luperion Invasion, an attempt by ousted Dominicans to topple Trujillo’s government. The rebels were quickly and brutally crushed, but rather than serving as a warning to Patria of the consequences of fighting Trujillo, she was inspired by the rebels. This is of course perhaps not that surprising as Trujillo’s years of continued pressure on the family had only ever served to weaponise them.
Patria went home and joined forces with Minerva and Maria Teresa. Round their kitchen table the sisters hatched a plan to continue the rebels fight and put an end to Trujillo’s reign of terror.
The group called themselves Movement of the Fourteenth of June, named after the slain rebels. With the help of their husbands, the three sisters started to distribute leaflets and pamphlets detailing Trujillo’s crimes, the people he had killed and the resistances work. The sisters started to become known under the moniker Las Mariposas or The Buttleflies.
In addition to their written work the group slowly started to weaponise. Once more the sisters sat around their kitchen table, this time making bombs from fireworks. They also gathered weapons, learnt how to use them and began to talk about taking a much more radical step-assassination.
Their attempted assassination of Trujillo in 1960 failed and Minerva, Marie Teresa and their husbands were thrown in jail. But though Trujillo had survived the sisters attempt on his life his political career was heading towards its demise. An assassination attempt of his own (on The Venezuelan President) had failed, he had lost the support of the Catholic Church, his former powerful allies America and even the top tiers of Dominican society and now the work of the Mirabel sisters and others like them was starting to threaten his already weakening grasp on power.
Trujillo did what he did best, he tortured and executed many of the captured rebels, but it didn’t quell the murmurings of discontent at the regime that were now becoming ever louder. To make matters worse in 1960 growing international pressure forced Trujillo to release the incarcerated Mirabel sisters; the butterflies were once again free.
But Trujillo became fixated on the idea that the root of his problem was Patria, Minerva and Maria Teresa Mirabel.
Warning – This next bit is rough
On 25 November 1960 the sisters were driving home after visiting their husbands in prison. Their jeep was stopped by secret police, who included Trujillo’s right hand man, Victor Alicinio Pena Rivera. The sisters and their driver were made to get out the car. They were taken to a sugarcane field and separated, then secret police beat and strangled each of the sisters. Their bodies were taken back to the jeep, which was then pushed off a cliff, in an effort to make their deaths look like an accident.
But this isn’t the end of the Mirabel sisters story.
You’ll pleased to know that cover up didn’t work work. The public soon realised that Patria, Minerva and Maria Teresa was assisnated. The people were angry and the tide turned against Trujillo in almost an instant.
People were inspired by the sisters and keen to pick up where they had left off; as the Mirabel sisters had done for the Luperion Invasion rebels. Less then six months after thier deaths, in May 1961 Trujillo’s own car was ambushed and he was shot in an assination carried out by Dominican Rebels with American backing.
The sisters became known as national heroes and their sister Dede opened a museum which told thier story. The Mirabel family also continued their legacy, Minerva’s daughter went onto become the Dominican Republics Under Secretary of Foreign Relations and Dede’s son the Vice President.
That was really interesting, where can I find out more? If you read Spanish then you my friend are in luck, there are tons of great resources out there, so go nuts!
If you don’t speak Spanish it’s a little bit harder BUT there is still some great material. In the time of butterflies is a cracking book all about the sisters (shout out to my Twitter followers that suggested it) it is a fictionalised version of events but still historically good and if your feeling lazy there is even a film staring Salma Heyak (the whole things currently on YouTube-just saying)